Members of the Congressional Black Caucus testified against the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) as the next attorney general of the United States. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), for instance, was the first senator in history to testify against a fellow member of the Senate in a confirmation hearing. Also testifying was Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Congressional Black Caucus head Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA).
Richmond said to applause “I want to express my concerns about being made to testify at the very end of the witness panels.” He went on to accuse the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying “To have a senator, a House member and a living civil rights legend testify at the end of all of this is the equivalent of being made to go to the back of the bus.” He was the last witness in two days of testimony. Richmond implored Democratic senators who remained for the black caucus testimony to “be courageous or be complicit” about what Sessions would do as attorney general.
Many Attorney Generals before Sen. Sessions fought for the rights of black & brown people. I am not confident Mr. Sessions will do the same. pic.twitter.com/sZuG5Jt0wL— Rep Cedric Richmond (@RepRichmond) January 11, 2017
After delivering his testimony, Richmond posted on Twitter: Many Attorney Generals before Sen. Session fought for the rights of black and brown people. I am not confident Mr. Sessions will do the same.”
"Having us testify at the end of this session, is equivalent to sitting at the back of the bus" pic.twitter.com/ZCu8r6516v— Rep Cedric Richmond (@RepRichmond) January 11, 2017
Committee chair Chuck Grassley (D-IA) largely ignored the assembled members of the black caucus and explained to POLITICO that the black legislators were scheduled to testify last because other witnesses had requested to testify before.
We need someone as Attorney General who is going to look out for all of us, not just some of us. https://t.co/7rdUAFrobA— John Lewis (@repjohnlewis) January 11, 2017
Speaking passionately and directly Democrats on the panel, Rep. John Lewis said, “It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you.” He added, “We need someone who is going to stand up, to speak up, and speak out for the people that need help.” He tweeted after the hearing, “We need someone as Attorney General who is going to look out for all of us, not just some of us.”
Rep. John Lewis: “There are forces taking us back to a dark place. We don’t want to go back, we want to go forward.” #StopSessions— America's Voice (@AmericasVoice) January 11, 2017
Lewis continued, saying: “We can pretend the law is blind. We can pretend it is evenhanded. But if we are honest with ourselves we know we are called upon daily by the people we represent to help them deal with unfairness in how the law is written and enforced. Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’ calls for law and order will mean today what it meant it Alabama when I was coming up back then. The rule of law was used to violate the human and civil rights of the poor, the dispossessed, people of color.”
Sen. Booker acknowledged his unprecedented act by testifying against Sessions. “I know it is exceptional for a senator to testify against another senator nominated for a Cabinet position. But I believe, like perhaps all of my colleagues in the Senate, that in the choice between standing with Senate norms or standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country, I will always choose conscience and country.”
Booker went on to say, “If confirmed, Sen. Sessions will be required to pursue justice for women, but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian and transgender Americans, but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend voting rights, but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity, but the record indicates that he won’t.” "The next attorney general must bring hope and healing to this country, and this demands a more courageous empathy than Senator Sessions' record demonstrates," said Booker.
“The march for justice in America still continues,” Booker testified.